Yesterday I posted six rules I write by. Here are some more tips of the trade I’ve discovered work for me, when I hold myself to them. Consider them my personal writing commandments.
- Don’t worry about the particular phrasing in a first draft. That’s what editing is for, so don’t get stuck wondering and wondering and wording and rewording a piece of dialogue. If you have some amount of words down that get the point across, and you know how the scene needs to progress, then keep writing. You can fix it later. Writing time is not editing time.
- Adverbs are the enemy, so try to avoid them if you can in your draft. My loyal followers know that one of my favorite quotes ever is Stephen King’s “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” They are often overused and make for weak, jilted writing. That said, if you can’t think of a strong verb to carry the load for your adverb(s), you can edit as many adverbs out as possible later.
- You don’t have to write a novel in order. It totally blew my mind when I first realized this: I’m the author, and I can write scenes in whatever order I want!!! And after they’re written and the draft’s done, I can move them around. WHOA. (This is one of the areas where I lacked common sense relating to everyday things. I often say I don’t have common sense; it just never occurred to me, for a very long time, that I could write scenes out of order. In my defense, I write without an outline, so my process is largely based on writing one scene and then progressing based on what happened there.)
- Don’t repress an urge to veer a bit from your original assumptions about or your outline of what you’re writing. Characters and their stories evolve as they go. I can’t name one of my novels, beyond my first, horrid one, where I knew how things would end before I was approaching writing the end. I have killed characters I thought would live, had people split up I thought might end up together, and added entire subplots that required extensive editing in of foreshadowing and preparation so that the turn of events does not feel too abrupt or unnatural. Rather than get annoyed or panicked when things change on me because of the extra work involved, I get excited that the end result is always way cooler than what I had anticipated. And hey, that kind of polishing work–after you figure out what’s actually going on and have a draft down–is exactly what editing is all about and why it exists as a concept. It will always be necessary. It’s part of the deal and something you sign up for when you decide to write a novel. Writing versus editing, writing versus editing: see a pattern here?
- “Everyone deserves a chance to fly….” This is one of my favorite lines from the musical “Wicked.” Well, the message applies to your characters as much as to real people, especially more minor characters and those you don’t like as much as some others. Give them a chance to develop, do their thing, and impress you. You never know what heights they might take you to! Or your readers. I have been shocked by feedback about my first published novel, “The Crimson League,” and which characters people really connected with.
- Don’t be afraid to let other stories inspire you. Every writer takes inspiration from and reworks some of their favorite stories, stories written and told by other people. The trick is to put your own twist on classic themes, plots, and characters. Just because Jane Austen wrote “Pride and Prejudice,” that doesn’t mean you can’t tell a story about initial misunderstandings and eventual love between a haughty, arrogant guy and a woman who feels snubbed by him. Just do things your own way: he doesn’t have to propose to her halfway through for her to reject him. Instead, maybe he can start off by courting a sister or best friend of hers, because what originally makes him think he’s better than her is not her social standing, but maybe her religion or her politics. Maybe she’s a single mother who never married and he judges her for that.